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UNL proposes panel on sexual violence after weeks of criticism from group

After weeks of criticism from a campus group about how sexual violence complaints are handled, University of Nebraska-Lincoln administrators will form a panel to strive to eliminate such violence.

About 25 organizations will contribute members to the “Title IX Collaborative,” UNL officials said through a statement Wednesday. The panel will work in an advisory role, “consulting with the chancellor on matters related to Title IX and violence prevention,” the statement said.

Sexual violence victims and supporters for weeks have pounded the NU Board of Regents and UNL administration with complaints and demands concerning UNL’s Title IX office. That office investigates allegations of sexual abuse on campus. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green’s Title IX Collaborative appears to be a response to those complaints.

Among many things, the organization, Dear UNL, has asked that the Title IX office’s coordinator, Tami Strickman, be replaced; that the office have a bigger staff; that better support of victims be provided; that an oversight committee be formed; and that various entities on the campus undergo more training in how to deal with sexual violence.

It was not immediately clear how Dear UNL would react. A spokeswoman for the group didn’t respond to texts Wednesday morning. Dear UNL was not mentioned as an entity that would provide members to the collaborative.

UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said Green met with Dear UNL representatives Tuesday.

Green’s statement said: “Over the past several months I have listened carefully to survivors of sexual assault and harassment who have courageously come together ... to call for elevated university attention to prevention, advocacy and support,” Green said.

The collaborative will start work late this month, he said. It will review policies and procedures; identify effective strategies; review and assist with sexual violence prevention training; alert officials to trends or necessary changes in programs, intervention and service; survey the campus climate regarding sexual violence and prevention; and evaluate prevention programs and services provided to survivors.

Strickman said through the statement that the collaborative is modeled after similar groups at Big Ten universities. The collaborative will “gather information and identify strategies as we work to strengthen our response to sexual misconduct,” Strickman said.

UNL leadership has maintained that the Title IX office is an investigative office, not an advocacy group. And Green said last month that UNL already has added staffers to its Title IX office.

Dear UNL representatives since spring have spoken publicly three times to the NU Board of Regents.

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Nebraska State Penitentiary on emergency lockdown due to rash of assaults, drugs, contraband

LINCOLN — An emergency lockdown was ordered Wednesday at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln in what’s being described as a “no-holds-barred” attempt to halt a recent rash of assaults and incidents involving intoxicated inmates.

Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes ordered intensive searches of cells at the state’s largest prison to confiscate weapons, drugs, alcohol and cellphones that have been smuggled into the institution.

Frakes, in a press release, said that the lockdown will continue “until further notice.” While surprise cell searches are not new, locking down an entire prison for a comprehensive search is.

“We will ramp up searches over the next several days to the highest level possible,” he said. “We want to identify not only where the contraband is being hidden, but if possible, how it is coming in.”

A recent state report called conditions at the State Penitentiary “alarming” and perhaps the worst in the state prison system, due to overcrowding, a shortage of staff and an increase in contraband, like K2, or synthetic marijuana. Since April, there have been 19 incidents that have involved assaults of staff.

The latest was Monday, when three corrections staff members were injured in an assault on Labor Day. Visitations at the State Pen were canceled over the weekend because of reduced staffing, and there’s been an increase in assaults on inmates in recent weeks, as well as a rise in incidents involving alcohol and drugs.

A state senator who has closely monitored prison conditions called the lockdown and searches “necessary.”

“Should they be doing this more frequently, could they accomplish this on an ongoing basis if they had more staff?” asked Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. “Really, right now the most important thing is safety of the staff and safety of the inmates.”

A recent memo from Doug Koebernick, the State Legislature’s Inspector General for Corrections, called conditions at the prison “alarming” and said conditions there could be worse than at the Tecumseh State Prison, which has had two deadly riots in the past four years.

More coverage: Riot at Tecumseh State Prison

The State Penitentiary is overcrowded, with about 1,375 inmates, nearly double its design capacity. The facility also is seeing record-high overtime expenses because of staff shortages. Searches for contraband decline, prison experts have said, when staffing is short.

Michele Wilhelm, the State Penitentiary’s warden, said assaults at the prison have increased over the past month, not only on staff, but also on inmates.

“One assault resulted in a staff member receiving treatment at the hospital. Additionally, a few inmates have received outside treatment for injuries,” she said.

Frakes said that because of K2, prison-brewed alcohol and other substances, staff members have been dealing with inmates who are intoxicated and confrontational.

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“That, in addition to the homemade weapons that have been discovered, represents a serious compromise to facility safety,” he said. “The only way to address this is to stop all movement and thoroughly search the facility.”

Koebernick said he’s been pointing out problems with K2, confiscated cellphones and staffing shortages at the State Penitentiary for almost a year. He said he hopes the searches are “thorough and swift” so the tense atmosphere at the prison is not made worse.

During a lockdown, inmates are confined to their cells and cannot leave unless escorted by staff. Meals are even served in the cells. Prison visits have been canceled through Friday.

Frakes said the searches will involve extra personnel and a variety of tools, including metal detectors, cellphone detecting devices and X-ray machines.

“Those technologies are in addition to the considerable use of personnel that will be utilized to physically search every corner, high and low,” he said. “Basically, anything that can be moved, disassembled or crawled into will be inspected.”

Notable crime news of 2019

Many on the islands have lost everything after Dorian leaves behind flooding, debris

FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) — The ground crunched under Greg Alem's feet Wednesday as he walked over the ruins of his home, laid waste by Hurricane Dorian. He touched a splintered beam of wood and pointed to the fallen trees, overcome by memories.

"We planted those trees ourselves. Everything has a memory, you know," he said. "It's so, so sad. ... In the Bible there is a person called Job, and I feel like Job right now. He's lost everything, but his faith kept him strong."

The devastation wrought by Dorian — and the terror it inflicted during its day-and-a-half mauling of the Bahamas — came into focus Wednesday as the passing of the storm revealed a muddy, debris-strewn landscape of smashed and flooded-out homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands. Officially the death toll from the strongest hurricane on record ever to hit the country stood at 20, but there was little doubt it would rise.

With a now-distant Dorian pushing its way up the southeastern U.S. coast, menacing Georgia and the Carolinas, many people living in the Bahamas were in shock as they slowly came out of shelters and checked on their homes.

In one community, George Bolter stood in the bright sunshine and surveyed the ruins of what was once his home. He picked at the debris, trying to find something, anything, salvageable. A couple of walls were the only thing left.

"I have lost everything," he said. "I have lost all my baby's clothes, my son's clothes. We have nowhere to stay, nowhere to live. Everything is gone."

The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police officers and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers, in an effort to reach drenched and stunned victims and take the full measure of the disaster.

"Right now there are just a lot of unknowns," Parliament member Iram Lewis said. "We need help."

The U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and relief organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross joined the burgeoning effort to rush food and medicine to survivors and lift the most desperate people to safety by helicopter. The U.S. government also dispatched urban search-and-rescue teams.

Londa Sawyer stepped off a helicopter in Nassau, the capital, with her two children and two dogs after being rescued from Marsh Harbor in the Abaco islands.

"I'm just thankful I'm alive," she said. "The Lord saved me."

Sawyer said that her home was completely flooded and that she and her family fled to a friend's home, where the water came up to the second floor and carried them up to within a few feet of the roof. She said she and her children and the dogs were floating on a mattress for about half an hour until the water began receding. Sandra Cooke, who lives in Nassau, said her sister-in-law was trapped under her roof for 17 hours in the Abaco islands and wrapped herself in a shower curtain as she waited.

"The dog laid on top of her to keep her warm until the neighbors could come to help," she said. "All of my family lives in Marsh Harbor, and everybody lost everything. Not one of them have a home to live anymore."

The storm pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph and torrential rains, swamping neighborhoods in brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging, by one estimate, nearly half the homes in Abaco and Grand Bahama, which have 70,000 residents and are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.

By Wednesday, Dorian was pushing northward a relatively safe distance off the Florida coastline with reduced but still-dangerous 110 mph winds. An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to clear out, and highways leading inland were turned into one-way evacuation routes.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 130 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, moving northwest at 8 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from its center.

Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and scrape the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday with the potential for more than a foot of rain in some spots and life-threatening storm surge.

"Hurricane Dorian has its sights set on North Carolina," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "We will be ready."

As the threat to Florida eased and the danger shifted farther up the coast, Orlando's airport reopened, along with Walt Disney World and Universal. To the north, ships at the big Norfolk, Virginia, naval base were ordered to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were sent inland.

The U.S. mainland recorded its first death in connection with the hurricane, that of an 85-year-old man in North Carolina who fell off a ladder while preparing his home for the storm. Dorian also was blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.

On Tybee Island, Georgia, Debbie and Tony Pagan stacked their beds and couches atop other furniture and covered their doors with plastic wrap and sandbags before evacuating. Their home flooded during both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.

"It's a terrible way to live," Debbie Pagan said. "We have the whole month of September and October to go. How would you like to be living on pins and needles?"

Another Tybee islander, Sandy Cason, said: "The uncertainty and the unknown are the worst part. Just not knowing what's going to be here when you get back."

Along King Street in historic Charleston, South Carolina, dozens of shops and restaurants typically bustling with tourists were boarded up, plywood and corrugated metal over windows and doors, as the flood-prone downtown area braced for high water.

Mark Russell, an Army veteran who has lived in South Carolina much of his life, went to a hurricane shelter right away. As for those who hesitated to do so, he said: "If they go through it one time, maybe they'll understand."

Maid of honor wears T. rex costume to Nebraska wedding — yes, with bride's blessing

The bride — and her gown — is usually the head-turner at a wedding.

But heads were turning a little earlier at one Omaha couple’s nuptials, thanks to the maid of honor’s, er, nontraditional attire.

Christina Meador sported a T. rex suit for her walk down the aisle at her sister’s Aug. 10 wedding in Omaha.

When her sister Deanna said the members of the wedding party could wear what they liked, Christina took it and ran with it.

“When you have to buy a bridesmaid dress, it would be great if it was something you actually wanted instead of a total waste of money,” Meador told The World-Herald. “I had always wanted the costume and immediately thought of that.”

Photos and the story behind the suit have gone viral. A post on Meador’s Facebook page racked up more than 8,500 likes and 38,000 shares.

The couple, Joby and Deanna Adams, wanted to keep their backyard ceremony simple.

They invested money that would have gone toward a venue into the patio at their Omaha home.

For the ceremony, the bride wore a white strapless gown, and the groom wore gray pants and a matching vest.

But the wedding party had no firm constraints. Joby Adams, 34, said he gave his groomsmen an idea. But Deanna Adams, 40, told her crew they could wear whatever they would be comfortable in.

The dinosaur suit became “a big game of chicken,” the groom said.

Meador messaged her sister saying she would be wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume. Do it, the bride sent back.

When Meador said she bought the costume, the bride said she was excited to see it.

Sure enough, Meador brought the T. rex suit and a backup dress on the big day.

Joby Adams didn’t think his now-sister-in-law would go through with it.

But then he saw Meador walk out of the house.

The jaw of her T. rex costume briefly snagged on the patio roof. She wobbled down the aisle with one stumpy T. rex arm grasping a bouquet of red and yellow flowers and the other resting on the best man’s arm.

“Apparently I don’t know my sister-in-law that well,” he said.

Since photos hit social media, the couple have made national news. They’ve received Facebook messages and been tagged in articles on social media.

They enjoyed the out-of-the-box outfit. Joby Adams said his mother, who died of cancer a couple of weeks after the backyard ceremony, was able to watch the livestreamed wedding and got a kick out of the costume.

“We enjoyed it,” he said. “We didn’t feel like it took anything away from the wedding. It added to it. We loved it, and we laughed.”

Oh, and what happened to the dinosaur costume after the wedding?

It was gifted to the bride.

Real Wedding: Kristin Arens and Austin Eidem